Middleburgh: A Town History
The present day Town of Middleburgh is the central town on the eastern border of Schoharie County. Its hilly uplands are split by the Schoharie Valley running north and south, dividing the town into east and west. The major streams emptying into the Schoharie Creek are the Little Schoharie, Line Creek and Lime Kiln. The original, First People’s names of the prominent hills rising above the Valley are Ou-con-gena (Rattlesnake Mountain of the west creek), Sa-ga-wa-na (The Cliff east of Town) and Mo-he-gon-ter (Honey Hill, located in the southeast corner of town). A noticeable feature is Vroman's Nose (O-nist-ta-gra-wa) just south of the town border, in the town of Fulton.
The word Schoharie is derived from the Indian word for ‘driftwood bridge,’ which was a bridge located where the Little Schoharie and Line Creeks flowed into the Schoharie Creek. At various times before the Europeans came to America, the Iroquois and Mahican Indian tribes were established at the Schoharie Creek.
The Town of Middleburgh was originally settled by a group of German Palatines led by Johan Conrad Weiser in 1712, making it one of the oldest settlements in what is now modern day Schoharie County. The original settlement was called Weisersdorf, and consisted of forty log and earth huts running along a brook near the present day High School, to across the street at Memorial Park.
By 1715, the Dutch, led by Adam Vroman, had established farms at the base of Vromans Nose and worked the land on the opposite side of the Creek from the Palatines. In spite of the friction between the Palatines, Dutch, and the English (located in Albany), the surrounding land was cleared for crops and the first grist mills appeared (grist mills are mills for corn or grain).
In 1734 the first Dutch Reformed Church was constructed on the southern end of the settlement. By the time of the American Revolution the Valley was producing eighty thousand bushels of grain annually, hence known as the "Breadbasket of the Revolution". During the Revolution there were constant threats from the Tories and loyalist First Peoples.
After the Chrysler/ McDonald Raid of 1777, three forts were constructed in the Schoharie Valley. The largest was the MiddleFort, which enclosed a three acre area, around the Johannes Becker stone farmhouse, just north of the present Village. It would serve as a refuge for the local citizens as well as headquarters for local military. Middlefort withstood a six to eight hour siege on October 17, 1780. A force of British Tories and First Peoples lead by Sir John Johnson, by-passed the upper fort in Fultonham. Johnson sent out a flag of truce three times, and three times, the white flag was sent back by rifle fire from Timothy Murphy. Major Woolsey, the Continental Officer in command, turned over leadership to Militia Col. Peter Vroman. Woolsey found he was unable to control the actions of Murphy, David Ellerson, Martinius Zelie and other local militiamen. Johnson's Raid would leave "Weyserstown" and many of the farms and crops of the surrounding area in ashes.
A new Village would be built after the American Revolution, closer to the Fort and near the second Dutch Reformed Church (which still stands today). This area would be known as "Hudson". From the end of the Revolution until the early 1800's, there was an influx of emigrants from New England. Many would settle near the present day upper Main Street, an area referred to as "Hard Scrabble". The primary occupation of the people was farming and they created much of their clothing and household needs themselves. The number of farms in the area expanded and many surrounding hills were cleared. There were grist mills, saw mills, and tanneries (a place where animal hides are tanned) on the Schoharie Creek and its tributaries.
The Town of Middleburgh was formed on March 17th, 1797. It included the present Town of Fulton, which was separated in 1828. There were three factories in the Valley; paper, nail and broom factories, and there was a wagon builder. By 1810 the Town's population had increased to 3,236, including 95 slaves. Eventually “Hard Scrabble” would be known as "Middletown,” and later changed to Middleburgh, officially with an "h.”
During the first half of the 19th century, cattle would be driven through Middleburgh in the Loonenburg Turnpike (present day Rt. 145), from western New York to New York City. A bridge and tollhouse were constructed to span the Schoharie Creek at the local bridge. Subsequently, inns and hotels sprung up along the Turnpike because of the boom in business. The largest of these was the Bull's Head Tavern, which could accommodate both man and beast. Among the Bull’s Head were several others; The White House (where the current Apple Food store is located), the Freemeyer House (later the Hotel Baker, the site of the present Middleburgh Library).
In 1860, the Town of Middleburgh reached its peak population in all of its history; approximately 3,900 individuals. The Gazetteer of New York published that year, that hops and broomcorn crops were extensively cultivated. During that time, the Village of Middleburgh contained five churches, a private seminary, two steam paper mills, a steam gristmill, two foundries, and 110 dwellings. Huntersland was a hamlet, four miles to the northeast, and had two churches, one sawmill, a gristmill, two foundries, and 101 inhabitants. Mill Valley to the southwest, had two large tanneries, a gristmill and 25 dwellings.
During the Civil War, the Town of Middleburgh supplied 289 volunteers, out of a voting population of 740. This represented the second highest proportion of servicemen for a town in New York State. Through the efforts of George Danforth, Middleburgh supplied 66 men to the 76th and 175 men to the 134th New York Volunteer Regiments.
Ironically, at the same time, Middleburgh also had people who identified as "Copperheads,” which are people who opposed the American Civil War. The opposition to the Lincoln government would become more pronounced after the Draft Law of 1863. Money would be raised to assist draftees and to hire substitutes, rather than enforce signing up by creating bounties for anyone who resisted the draft.
During the latter half of the 19th Century and into the 20th, small family farms supported the economy and local businesses in nearby villages and hamlets. The Town of Middleburgh also became the largest hop producer in New York. Much of the present business district in the Village was completed during this period. Small shops and businesses filled the store front along Main Street and Railroad Avenue. Many of the surrounding hamlets had small general stores and blacksmith shops.
Keeping with the technology of the times, the Middleburgh & Schoharie Railroad was constructed in 1867. The First National Bank of Middleburgh was formed in 1880, and the Middleburgh Telephone Company was created in 1897. The M & S Power and Light provided the Villages of Middleburgh and Schoharie with electricity around the turn of the century. Although the farm based population was declining, the latter 1800's saw a thriving town and community known for raising "Hell, Hops, and Democrats".
The 20th Century brought many changes to the Town and Village. By 1920, blight and Prohibition destroyed the growing hop industry. During the first decades of the century, the Republican Party became dominant. The Power Company became part of a larger entity in 1924, which eventually became part of Niagara Mohawk (which is now National Grid).
The Railroad ceased operations in 1936, and the tracks and railroad yard were sold for scrap. The Hotel Baker burned down in 1942. The local bank became a part of Central National Bank in the 1950's, which is presently owned by NBT. Many of the small farms disappeared and returned to forests or became housing subdivisions. Improved roads and the automobile brought competition from larger stores and shopping malls outside the area. As a result, many of the smaller businesses became a part of the past. The low point for the area came in the 1990's.
Since the beginning of the 21st Century, an effort remains underway to revitalize the Middleburgh area. A new Public Library has been constructed on the site of the old Baker Hotel. The beautiful lime stone wall along River Street has been rebuilt with Victorian period lighting as an added feature. There have been repairs and improvements to the Middleburgh Cemetery. The Middleburgh School District buildings have been expanded and modernized. Several new businesses have moved into the Village and the surrounding town commercial district. The bridge over the Schoharie Creek was renovated in 2006 with the addition of wrought iron railing and lighting, matching those found of River Street. The Town Hall on Railroad Avenue was renovated. Many new homes have been built in the hills outside of the Village.
On August 28, 2011 the Schoharie Creek and its tributaries had the largest flooding event in its history, thanks to Hurricane Irene. Recovery has happened rapidly and is well along. Whether there are conflicts over colonial settlements, destruction by the British and Loyalist Indians, changing economic times, or repeated flooding events, the Town of Middleburgh can rely on the resilience of its people.
Written by: Charlie Spickerman, Town Historian